THE principal parties in the Cauvery water dispute appear to have surrendered some long and firmly held positions. Karnataka, whose fiery opposition to the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal and its controversial 1991 Interim Order, set off riots and attacks against Tamils in the State, has turned pro-establishment. It has become a firm advocate of the Tribunal, and the two other institutional mechanisms set up to adjudicate the dispute, namely, the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC). It had until the recent past been deeply suspicious of the functions of these bodies.
Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has taken a stand against both the CRA and the CMC playing any role in working out a distress-sharing formula in the current situation.
The affidavit filed by the Union government before the Supreme Court supporting Karnataka's stand and seeking the dismissal of the suit filed by Tamil Nadu will doubtless strengthen and lend credibility to Karnataka's stand. In response to Tamil Nadu's petition, in which it has urged the Supreme Court to direct Karnataka to implement the Interim Order of the Tribunal, Karnataka filed a counter-affidavit. It asserted that it always abided by the Tribunal's Interim Order and sought the dismissal of Tamil Nadu's petition. The Centre's affidavit, filed by the Union Water Resources Ministry, underlined the Interim Order's stress on distress-sharing, the emphasis that the CMC and the CRA placed on it, and Tamil Nadu's reluctance to offer such a formula despite being the first to recognise the concept. It asked for the suit to be dismissed "with a direction to the plaintiff to cooperate with the CRA in formulating a distress-sharing formula for adoption by the CMC and the CRA in the implementation of the interim order and clarificatory order".
The CMC, which met on February 12, decided to rework its draft distress-sharing formula keeping in view the comments of the basin States. It asked Tamil Nadu to make its stand clear in the matter. Karnataka's position is that in 2001-02 it has met the quantity due to Tamil Nadu as stipulated by the Interim Order, except for a shortfall of 3 tmc ft, which it expects to meet by the end of February or early March.
Karnataka also filed a counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to a petition by the Gandhi Sahitya Sangha, Bangalore, which sought the setting up of a river board. Karnataka opposed this and argued that the Tribunal, which was set up under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, was the mechanism under which the "State's interest would be better protected". Karnataka said its stand was "identical and consistent with the stand taken by all previous governments, namely, that failing to reach an amicable settlement through negotiation, the State is dependent on seeking a solution to the Cauvery dispute through the machinery of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, and not through the machinery of the River Boards Act, 1956..." From openly declared hostility to unwilling cooperation to unconditional support, Karnataka has come a long way in respect of its attitude to the Tribunal.